Hayden Fry will forever be remembered for doing what many thought was impossible at the time by returning the Iowa football program to glory.
He couldn’t have done it without talented players, though, and Fry had lots of them. I was reminded of that while trying to rank the top 10 players in the Fry era, which lasted at Iowa from 1979-98.
It was even more difficult than ranking the top 10 players under current Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, which was the focus of last Monday’s column, because there were more players from which to choose under Fry.
Some fans might feel that I have Ronnie Harmon ranked too high in the No. 2 spot. They might be more surprised to know that I actually gave Harmon brief consideration for the top spot because I still believe he was Fry’s most talented player at Iowa. Harmon’s biggest problem is that his last game as a Hawkeye was the 1986 Rose Bowl loss to UCLA in which he fumbled four times. Some fans still haven’t forgiven Harmon for that.
I choose to remember the good things about Harmon, including the countless defenders that he left grabbing for air with open-field magic. Even in the Rose Bowl loss to UCLA Harmon was a force, catching 11 passes for 102 yards.
Figuring out where to rank kicker Rob Houghtlin was probably the hardest thing to do. I kept telling myself that Houghtlin deserved to be in the top 10 because of all the game-winning field goals that he made as a Hawkeye, most notably the one that defeated Michigan 12-10 in 1985 when Iowa was the top-ranked team in the nation and the Wolverines were ranked second. But I just couldn’t bring myself to take anybody out of the top 10. So Houghtlin ended up as the second player out of the top 10, or in other words, 12th overall.
I also took into account that I ranked Nate Kaeding third on Ferentz’s list of top 10 players, but Kaeding was more productive than Houghtlin was as a Hawkeye, outscoring him by 83 points in college. Kaeding also had to compete with just 14 seasons of players from the Ferentz era, whereas Houghtlin was up against two decades of players under Fry.
Now on to the list:
1. Chuck Long, quarterback, 1981-85: It took somebody spectacular to top this list and that word describes how Chuck Long performed behind center during his record-breaking career. The Wheaton, Ill. native led Iowa to four consecutive bowl games and actually played in five bowls if you count his brief appearance in the 1982 Rose Bowl. Long is believed to be the only college player to appear in five bowl games. He also was the first Big Ten player and the second player in college football history to pass for 10,000 yards in a career. He led Iowa to a No. 1 ranking for six weeks in the 1985 season and also finished runner-up to Auburn running back Bo Jackson for the 1985 Heisman Trophy in the closet vote ever, losing by just 45 points.
2. Ronnie Harmon, running back, 1982-85: He was a force as a receiver during his freshman and sophomore seasons while waiting to become the featured running back. His ability to make defenders miss, coupled with his ability to catch passes made Harmon a big-play specialist from the moment he joined the team as a true freshman. Harmon grew up in Staten Island, N.Y. and was part of the East Coast recruiting pipeline that Fry used to help rebuild the program. Harmon currently ranks as Iowa’s eighth all-time leading rusher with 2,271 yards and is fifth in receiving with 2,045 yards. He is the only Hawkeye ranked in the top 10 in both categories.
3. Reggie Roby, punter/kicker, 1979-82: The Waterloo native redefined what it meant to change field position with his powerful right leg. Roby’s booming punts combined with Iowa’s overpowering defense helped pave the way to the 1981 Rose Bowl. He set an NCAA record that season by averaging 49.8 yards per punt. Roby, who died in 2005, also led the nation in punting as a senior in 1982 with a 48.1 yard. His 45.4 career average ranks among the best in NCAA history.
4. Larry Station, linebacker, 1982-85: The Omaha, Neb., native was in the same 1982 recruiting class as Harmon. And just like Harmon, Station was too talented to be redshirted as a true freshman. Station started at middle linebacker in each of his four seasons at Iowa and he made first-team all-Big Ten as a sophomore, junior and senior. Station’s career ended almost 30 years ago and yet he’s still Iowa’s all-time leader with 492 tackles.
5. Andre Tippett, defensive end, 1979-81: He was the first consensus all-American at Iowa under Fry in addition to being a nightmare for quarterbacks. Born in Alabama and raised in Barringer, N.J., Tippett still holds the school record for tackles for lost yardage in a season (20 tackles for minus-153 yards in 1980) and he made first-team all-Big Ten as a junior and senior.
6. Sedrick Shaw, running back, 1993-96: He was so productive that he made Tavian Banks a backup for three seasons at Iowa. Even with a talented cast around him that included Banks at running back and Tim Dwight at receiver, Shaw was the undisputed leader on offense. The Austin, Texas, native ended his career as Iowa’s all-time leading rusher with 4,156 yards, a mark that stands today. Shaw also scored 33 touchdowns and averaged 5.0 yards per carry at Iowa.
7. Tim Dwight, receiver/return specialists, 1994-97: The former City High speedster would top the list if it were based solely on who was Fry’s most competitive player at Iowa. Dwight was a consensus all-America return specialist as a senior in 1997 and he finished seventh in the voting for the Heisman Trophy that season. He returned five punts for touchdowns as a Hawkeye, including one each against Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. He also is Iowa’s third all-time leading receiver with 2,271 yards despite not playing the position as a freshman and despite being only 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds in college.
8. Marv Cook, tight end, 1985-88: The former West Branch star not only made a lot of catches as a Hawkeye, he also made big catches — none bigger than his 28-yard touchdown in the final seconds that lifted Iowa to a rare victory at Ohio State in 1987. Cook is Iowa’s all-time leading receiver among tight ends with 126 catches and was a consensus all-America selection in 1988.
9. Jared DeVries, defensive tackle, 1995-98: The Aplington native was a four-year starter at Iowa, a consensus all-American as a senior in 1998 and a three-time first-team all-Big Ten selection. DeVries holds the school record for tackles for losses in a season (22) and a career (78) and for career quarterback sacks with 42. He also was the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year as a junior in 1997 and the Most Valuable Player at the 1995 Sun Bowl and the 1996 Alamo Bowl.
10. Dave Haight, defensive tackle, 1985-88: I went back and forth between Haight and Leroy Smith before giving Haight a slight edge; my thinking being that three great seasons should prevail over one incredible season. Smith was a consensus all-America defensive end in 1991, but Haight is one of just nine Hawkeyes to make first-team all-Big Ten three times. He also was the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year as a junior in 1987 and his 346 career tackles are the most among Iowa defensive linemen.
The next best 25 players in order:
Leroy Smith, DE, 1989-91; Rob Houghtlin, K, 1985-87; Chuck Hartlieb, QB, 1985-88; Merton Hanks, DB, 1987-90; Mark Bortz, DL, 1979-82; Jeff Drost, DT, 1983-86; Mike Haight, OL, 1983-85; Tavian Banks, RB, 1994-97; Mike Devlin, C, 1989-92; Matt Rodgers, QB, 1988-91; John Derby, LB, 1988-91; Brad Quast, LB, 1986-89; Quinn Early, 1984-97; Devon Mitchell, 1982-85; Mike Stoops, DB, 1981-84; Bob Stoops, DB, 1979-82; Nick Bell, TE/RB, 1988-90; Danan Hughes, WR, 1989-92; Dave Croston, OL, 1983-86; Mike Wells DL, 1990-93; Paul Hufford, DL, 1982-84; John Alt, OL, 1980-83; Bob Kratch, OL, 1985-88; Pat Dean, NG, 1978-81; Jim Johnson, DL, 1987-90.
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football